The Anina mountains is home to the oldest (and perhaps most picturesque) mountain railway in Romania and to stunning scenery which houses the not unusual history which binds our two small in stature but mighty at heart nations of Romania and Wales.
I was intrigued by the similarities between Romania and Wales and the awesome countryside. Not long before the centenary of the Anina disaster in 1920 I had the opportunity to visit Romania and spend time travelling through it’s striking countryside.
Anina was the longest running mine in Romania until its closure in 2006 and it still has large reserves of anthracite, lignite, brown coal and oil shale amounting to over 1.3 billion tonnes. Opening in 1790, the mine at Anina was the deepest mine in Romania and one of the deepest in Europe with galleries hundreds of kilometres in length and reaching depths of 1,200 metres (3,900 ft)
The Anina mine was the site of many fatal accidents during its dramatic history claiming over 1,000 lives from its opening in 1790 to its closure in 2006 ; June 7th 1920 marked the largest mining catastrophe in Romania due to the explosion of the underground warehouse inaugurated in 1915 causing 217 deaths. On 15 January 2006 Anina claimed her final victims in a gas explosion killing 7 and wounding a further 5 miners. This was to be the last men to lose their lives as the mine ceased activity on 30th December that same year.
Our parallel history shares the tragedy of disaster, sureness of spirit and steadfast community; a trait attracting me to the Romanian people, which is shared with the Welsh. This is demonstrably present in the history of the Anina disasters and stirs in me a compassion for those who lost their lives and those left behind as it brings to mind tragedies experienced by people close to me.
The Merthyr Vale colliery was first opened on 23 August 1869, at which time Aberfan was little more than a couple of cottages and an inn; by 1966 it was a thriving community of 5000, most of whom were employed by the local coal industry in some capacity. By now the coal mines provided a steady income for about 800 miners so complaints about the spoil tips, which were not solid, and sat precariously on sandstone and a natural spring, could be ignored. There was an implicit threat that if the complaints continued the mines would close causing a devastating loss of economy for the region.
The consequence of this inaction was that at 9.13am on the morning of 21 October 1966 a moving mountain of coal slurry covered a small welsh village, burying a school complete with 126 children and teachers along with others in nearby buildings.
Images of men from the village and further afield digging with shovels and bare hands looking for their lost generation are still in the minds and hearts of the people of Merthyr Tydfil. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II made the trip to visit with the people of Aberfan and notably wept in public. Her decision to wait 8 days to make the trip is reputed to be one of Her Majesty’s biggest regrets.
This is an illustration as to how the coal industry created and controlled communities. Providing the means of employment for thousands in the community. Fathers and sons together side by side with most other men from the village. Both in Anina and in Aberfan, as well as in many other places.
Perhaps the development of tourism can save Anina; set in an idyllic location, brimming with natural beauty and potential, turning her into a target area for tourists in search of adventure. Her mines could open once again, bustling and welcoming people in but now in an observatory capacity. No longer causing men to toil, breath coal dust, causing untimely deaths. Here on in, in an educational capacity to show the modern observer the hardships of their forebears.
Aberfan, is a village that still mourns her lost children. The mines are closed and the land reclaimed.The mines themselves are no longer on show, the scars on the mountain, unlike the hearts, are healed, the land is green again. Flowers grow in remembrance of the 126 children and 28 adults unforgotten.